Tag Archives: Spiny Forest

North! to Alaska Anjajavy* (part 1) – The Spiny Forest

Monday June 17 2024 – We had to get under way pretty sharpish today in order to get our flight up to Tana and squeeze in a visit to the Spiny Forest, so the alarm was set for 0430, just to make sure that we hadn’t forgotten that We Were Travelling. In the UK, we have a saying, “the early bird gets the worm”. In our case, the early Jane got the warm. My somewhat jaundiced impression of the Bakuba Lodge was not improved by the lack of hot water in the shower by the time I got there. However, the service for breakfast was, as the evening before, absolutely impeccable, and I didn’t want to interrupt Jane’s love-in with Bruno as she praised the architecture and décor by suggesting that he fix the plumbing (and the lighting, and the dangerous step down in the room that might trap an unwary person en route to the loo in the middle of the night, and the idea of having an open plan loo in the room, and the lack of places to plug in one’s essential charging devices).  However, I will emphasise that food was terrific, and the service utterly faultless.


We were due a visit to what I understood to be the Spiny Forest. Reading Wikipedia, though, I discover that the Toliara area hosts several spiny thickets which might be considered to be the Spiny Forest. The thicket that we were due to visit was about 25km outside Toliara, which gave us a chance to see once again the colour and variety of the traffic through this substantial town. Mainly tricycle rickshaws. My God, there are thousands of the buggers!

and they don’t only carry people; this one was laden with sugar cane  , for example.

There are also oxcarts,

any number of people carrying stuff to market,

and (I nod here to the late, great John Peel), Desperate Bicycles,

not to mention Desperate Minibuses

and Unexpected Items In The Road.

Despite all these challenges, we made it through to Reniala Reserve, a small, 0.5km² private reserve, where we would spend an hour or so on a guided walk along its trails.

To start with, it seemed merely a rehash of the plants we’d seen the day before at the Antsokay Arboretum. But, gradually some extra background and new information began to shine through.  For example, many of the baobabs were pockmarked with holes.

These date from the time before this area became a private reserve, when the locals would cut holes in the bark to use as foot- and handholds in order to climb the trees to pick the fruits, which are edible.

The tree above is quite old – a few hundred years only – and is quite substantial,

but the grand-daddy of them all is a Baobab that is 1200 years old!

One wonders what stories the face (bottom left of the tree, having its eye poked out by Jane) could tell….

Other Baobabs came in all sorts of strange shapes and sizes.

This one fell early in its development, but continued to grow (the right-hand end does look like a rhino, doesn’t it?). And this one

is very young, and just looks like a normal tree; the strange shapes only develop once very mature.

The thicket we were being guided around was, indeed, pretty spiny

but the main attraction was the Baobabs

Our guide was good enough to point out some creatures as well, to keep me happy.

Malagasy Brush Warbler

Green-capped Coua

Crested Coua

Three-eyed Lizard

But the best of all was saved until the last. At every wildlife opportunity, Jane has been keen on seeing a Tenrec, a hedgehog-like creature endemic to Madagascar. At every opportunity, guides had patiently explained that these creatures have gone into hibernation. But at Reniala, one of the staff actually managed to find and uncover one so that we could see it.

It was carefully replaced and covered up afterwards so that it could go back to its hibernation.

On our drive to and from the Reniala Reserve, we followed the coast, and so could see the Mangroves that are so important to the local ecology.

If you look around the base of the mangroves, you can see what look like sticks poking out of the ground; these are actually roots of the tree simultaneously providing nourishment and enabling the mangrove to spread.  We’ve been familiar with washing parties, but we passed a formal construction to make washing easier,

similar to the lavadoiros we’d seen in northern Spain on our peregrinations there.

But eventually it was time to go to the airport to catch our flight back to Tana, which meant we had to say goodbye to Kenny and Haja, who had done such a great job of looking after – and educating – us on the 1250km drive down from Tana via Andasibe to the south west coast. Despite an occasionally uncomfortable ride on the often crappy road surface, we’d had a lot of fun, and learned a huge amount about Madagascar and the Malagasy people; the 10 days we’d had with them had hugely enriched our time here.

Kenny actually had one final task, which was to sweet talk the check-in staff to allow me to take my camera bag as hand luggage (it was well over twice the theoretical weight limit for such things). This task successfully completed, we bade him goodbye as we headed for our aeroplane,

a De Havilland Canada, since you ask.  It actually took off half an hour early and landed a whole hour before its scheduled arrival time. But the people at Tamana, the agency who’d been looking after us throughout our time here, were on the ball, and there was a driver waiting us to take us to our overnight hotel, the by-now-familiar Relais des Plateaux, where we had a comfortable night, but an uncomfortably early start the next day to be whisked to the final segment of our stay here in Madagascar.  To find out what that involved, you’ll have to keep in touch with these pages and I’ll tell you all about it, some other time.


* Any regular reader of these pages will remember the first time I used this reference, which was when we actually did go North! To Alaska.